The following was adapted from an article that first appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of The Splash, the newsletter of the Association of Canine Water Therapy.
I imagine that many of you reading this have had “the one”. THAT dog. The one that is different from the others. The one who without ever speaking a word talks to you, understands you, loves you unconditionally, knows what you’re thinking -- and you know what he is thinking, too. The one that you love with your whole heart and soul. Your soul mate in a hair suit.
It is easy to think that YOUR “one” is the ONLY “one”. That no one has ever experienced what you experience, and that he or she is the most special dog in the whole world. But if you meet enough dogs and enough dog people, you know that there are other “ones” out there, looking for opportunities to teach their person, their family, their veterinarians and random people they meet important lessons.
My “one” is named Ganimedes – Gunny for short -- a big golden-eyed handsome chocolate Labrador Retriever who looks right through your eyes and into your soul any time he feels like it. Indeed, he gives new meaning to the phrase “undressing someone with your eyes.”
The Early Days
Gunny was my wedding present from my husband over 12 years ago. He was a beautiful, feisty, intelligent and incredibly stubborn little ball of chocolate fur who chewed through anything in his path and ate like a horse. We didn’t really hit it off at first (if two whole years actually qualifies as “at first”). It was a battle of wills every day – and usually he won. For example, at four months old he would sit at the end of the dining room table and glare at us, daring us NOT to give him some of the food we were eating. He even exasperated the dog trainer, who proclaimed him the most stubborn dog he had ever met.
Eventually, we found some balance and peace. Gunny got his way a lot of the time, and I got my way every now and then. When he was about 3 years old, I was offered a job in Hong Kong as a lawyer for an international company, so we packed up our belongings, got Gunny an extra large crate, and flew halfway around the world to live in a very different place. While there, Gunny was bitten by a tick infected with babesia and ehrlicchia parasites, and got very very sick. Luckily he recovered – or so we thought at the time.
Fighting to Survive
To make a very long story short, a few years later I was transferred to Switzerland and there, after undergoing a relatively minor surgery, Gunny’s horrid parasites came back more ferociously than the first time. His body was destroying his own platelets and red blood cells and I was told by the hospital staff: “Madame Duperier, you need to accept that your dog is not going home.” I did not “accept” it. I selfishly told Gunny, who was very tired and very sick, that he wasn’t allowed to leave me and that it wasn’t his time. Perhaps most importantly, I asked everyone I knew all over the world, of all different religions and cultures, to please imagine he was making platelets and to pray for him.
His wonderful Swiss osteopath, Dr. Piguet, said to me one day when Gunny was teetering on the edge from bleeding in so many parts of his body:
“Madame Duperier, I know that it is very hard for you to see this right now because you are so scared and he is so sick, but the energy of all of these people all around the world who don’t even know each other praying for Ganimedes, if you could see it from above the earth, makes a beautiful rainbow. Gunny made that.”
I never forgot her or what she said to me that day. And Gunny survived.
Gunny Launches a Plan
Slowly but surely, taking care of Gunny, laughing with him, playing with him and being exasperated by him became the most important thing that I did on any given day. Being a lawyer started to feel more like a burden and my big “important” job was, in my view, probably going to kill me one way or another from all the stress. In any event, it seemed much less important than being with Gunny. I was a very logical pointy headed lawyer, and a good one. But I came to feel that the thing I was best at in the whole world was taking care of Gunny.
“What on earth does all this have to do with water therapy??” you must be asking!
Well, at about 8 years old Gunny started to have trouble walking and eventually lost all the muscle in his right hind leg, most likely due to a neurological problem. When his vet said “he needs to swim, ” I said, “okay, where?” I did not get a long list of options in response.
There are few places in Maryland that provide swim facilities for dogs, and most are at least an hour away from me and require vaccinations, which he cannot have due to his previous auto-immune problems. So, I quit my job, studied with a national expert on canine water therapy, and embarked on a mission to build Gunny’s Rainbow, LLC -- a swim facility in my home a couple of miles outside of Washington, DC, to help Gunny and other dogs with mobility problems.
When you send out a request to the Universe, it can bring amazing things back to you. My request was simple: I want to make old and sick dogs feel better. The dogs (and their people) who have responded to my request are just amazing. Most all of them are “the one”.
I am privileged to share time in my pool with some of the most fabulous beings on the planet and participate in their healing while they participate in mine. I have incredibly spiritual dogs who prefer very quiet and intimate sessions that make me feel alive, at peace and whole. And I have “throw the ball again PLEEEEEEZ because I don’t EVER want to stop swimming while you laugh with me” dogs who put a spring in my step when I get out of the pool just thinking about how much fun we had. Mostly, what I have are a bunch of professors! In return, I get to help their joints stop aching or their hips stop hurting for at least a little while as they swim, receive a reiki treatment from me or I hold them in my arms in the water and we just co-exist for a while.
Gunny, as it turns out, doesn’t like the pool and doesn’t want to swim. We recently identified some physical reasons why he was probably uncomfortable in the pool and have hopefully fixed them. So, we’ll keep trying and see if he comes to accept it. It is very hard to try to figure out how I could have quit my job, bought a new house and built a pool for Gunny, spent most of my money on a crazy scheme to swim dogs and have my orthopedically challenged Labrador Retriever basically refuse to swim. (That stubbornness has never waned.)
So, I decided to stop trying to figure it out. For the moment, I choose to believe that as usual, Gunny is wiser than me. He knows that there is a lot of good I can do for other dogs; and I sometimes wonder if he isn’t making a plan for how to get me through the minutes, hours, days and years after he leaves his chocolate Lab costume and I am left here without him. Between now and then, which hopefully is a long time from now, he will keep making beautiful rainbows and teaching anyone who will listen the lessons that he thinks they need to learn.
There may not be a proverbial pot of gold at the end of Gunny’s Rainbow, but it is indeed a beautiful energy that I am privileged to bathe in every day.